Children At Greatest Risk From Ozone Depletion
From: Environmental Ecology News <email@example.com
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - The special
vulnerability of children to the Sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV)
rays is the theme of today's 16th anniversary of the global
treaty that limits the emission of ozone depleting chemicals -
the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
These substances are chemicals containing chlorine and bromine
atoms, used primarily as refrigerants, fire suppressants, and fu-
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today praised progress made under
the Montreal Protocol, ratified by 184 countries, as "impressive"
with scientists reporting a decline in ozone depletion and the
first signs of recovery following efforts to eliminate the de-
structive chemicals emitted by human activities.
But 66,000 people each year are dying from melanoma and other
skin cancers, many due to the Sun's ultraviolet radiation, and
children are especially vulnerable, Annan recognized.
While we may be gratified with the progress that has been made
through international cooperation, we must not be satisfied until
the preservation of the ozone layer is assured, Annan said in his
message marking today as International Day for the Preservation
of the Ozone Layer.
"We cannot be complacent, Annan cautioned. The ozone layer re-
mains depleted above the Antarctic and the Arctic, as well as in
the midlatitudes of both hemispheres of the earth.
The Antarctic ozone hole has grown rapidly this year and as of
September 9 covered some 27 million square kilometers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies today
warned that protecting children from skin cancers that are trig-
gered by overexposure to UV radiation is a matter of urgency.
"As ozone depletion becomes more marked and as people around the
world engage more in Sun seeking behavior, the risk of developing
health complications from overexposure to UV radiation is becom-
ing a substantial public health concern," said WHO Director Gen-
eral Dr. Lee Jong-wook at the agency's headquarters in Geneva.
"UV radiation is of particular concern because people are often
unaware of the health risks. The effects of exposure often do not
appear until many years later and overexposure to the Sun poses a
risk to all populations, not just fair skinned ones," said Dr.
Mike Repacholi, coordinator of WHO's Radiation and Environmental
"While most of the known melanomas included in the International
Agency for Research on Cancer statistics occur in the industrial-
ized world, this is not necessarily because only fair skinned
populations are affected by UV radiation," said Dr. Repacholi.
"Given adequate reporting mechanisms, we would expect to see many
more melanoma cases originating in developing countries. More-
over, cataract susceptibility has nothing to do with the skin
type, and people living close to the equator are most likely to
be affected," he said.
"We know that by reducing overexposure of children and adoles-
cents to the Sun," said Dr. Lee, "we can substantially reduce the
risk of contracting skin cancers, cataracts and other conditions
which might only appear much later in life."
To help people around the world become more aware of the risks
from exposure to UV radiation, and to take the measures to pre-
vent overexposure, WHO's Intersun Project is today launching a
School Sun Protection Package.
Three booklets make up the package - a guide for schools and
teachers on why and how to develop effective sun education pro-
grams, practical teaching materials for primary school students,
and evaluation materials to assess the effectiveness of primary
school sun education programs.
Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Pro-
gramme, said, "Recent scientific findings have shown that the
ozone layer is on the road to recovery, but we must remain vigi-
lant and more needs to be done before we can say that the problem
is solved for good."
"The phaseout of the ozone depleting pesticide methyl bromide,
combating the illegal trade in CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] and
full implementation of the Montreal Protocol in developing coun-
tries are all issues that need to be tackled, Toepfer said. "Only
then can we say that the sky above our heads will be safe for our
children and their children to come."
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international
organization with offices in London and Washington, warned today
that the Montreal Protocol is at serious risk of being undermined
by illegal trade and production of ozone depleting substances.
"We have found evidence of CFC smuggling in many parts of the
world, particularly now in developing countries, where CFC phase-
out schedules are beginning to be felt," said, EIA's ozone layer
campaigner Ezra Clark. "Much equipment exists in these countries
which relies on CFCs, but the high cost of alternative chemicals
creates a demand which is often satiated by illegal material."
A further problem which could undermine the Montreal Protocol and
delay the recovery of the ozone layer, Clark said, is the request
by the United States to the Secretariat of the Montreal Protocol
for exemptions allowing it to increase its use of the fumigant
methyl bromide - one of the most potent ozone depleting chemicals
still in widespread use.
The Montreal Protocol meeting in Nairobi in November this year
will decide whether to grant this controversial "critical use ex-
emptions" to the United States.
Most ozone exists in the upper part of the atmosphere. This re-
gion, called the stratosphere, is more than 10 kilometers (six
miles) above the Earth's surface.
There, about 90 percent of atmospheric ozone is contained in the
ozone layer, which shields us from harmful ultraviolet light from
the Sun. Ozone in the stratosphere absorbs some of the Sun's bio-
logically harmful ultraviolet radiation. Because of this benefi-
cial role, stratospheric ozone is considered good ozone.
By contrast, ozone at Earth's surface, known as smog, is formed
from pollutants emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels. It is
considered bad ozone because it can be harmful to humans and
plant and animal life.
The initial step in the depletion of stratospheric ozone by human
activities is the emission of ozone depleting gases containing
chlorine and bromine at Earth's surface, explains the Montreal
Protocol Secretariat in a report reviewed by the 74 scientists
who attended the Panel Review Meeting for the June 2002 ozone as-
sessment in Switzerland.
Most of these ozone depleting gases accumulate in the lower at-
mosphere because they are unreactive and do not dissolve readily
in rain or snow. Eventually, the emitted gases are transported to
the stratosphere where they are converted to more reactive gases
containing chlorine and bromine. These more reactive gases then
participate in reactions that destroy ozone.
Finally, when air returns to the lower atmosphere, these reactive
chlorine and bromine gases are removed from Earth's atmosphere by
rain and snow, the report explains.
Despite the ban on production of refrigerant gases containing
chlorine for domestic use since January 1995, these CFCs are
still produced in Europe for export to developing countries.
"There is strong evidence of surplus global production, and EU
produced CFCs ending up on the black market in developing coun-
tries," Clark said.
"While we welcome the recent voluntary reductions in production
of CFCs announced by the EU, we feel stronger actions are needed,
and the Montreal Protocol should take more concrete steps to ac-
celerate the phaseout of these harmful ozone destroying chemi-
* * *
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